Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English

Website Review:

In short: This site will really help students get better vocabulary.  You can practice almost 100 different groups of words. Some groups are for beginners (numbers, colors, etc.) and some are for intermediate or even advanced students (internal organs, beef, etc.). There are five different ways to practice each group of words.

Also, you can find a nice links to other helpful sites.

For students: The pictures and the sounds are very useful for your memory. This site is easy to use. Why not do one set every night before you go to bed?

For teachers: Before doing a lesson on one of these topics, send your students to learn the vocabulary here. Then, when you start the lesson, you’ll start the lesson with a review and they’ll learn it that much better.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review Questions Game

Review Questions Game

This is a Jeopardy like game for classes that have studied a lot of materials

Create five categories For categories, you might choose “Grammar”, “Vocabulary”, “Spelling”, “Culture Bits” and “Your Teacher”. It depends on your class and your textbook.

Create fifty questions Now, think of 10 questions for each category. Order the questions by difficulty. The easiest questions will be worth 100 points. The hardest questions will be worth 1000 points.

Set up On the board, create a grid. Label the columns with the categories. Then there should be rows for 100 point questions, 200 point questions, etc.

Create teams and play Divide the class into teams. The teams choose a category and a point value. If they get the question right, they get the points. If they get it wrong, the next team gets a chance.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Practice Tests: Negative Factual Information Questions

Beyond Practice Tests: Negative Factual Information Questions

On a test like the TOEFL, Negative Factual Information questions ask you to find missing things. You’ll get four choices (A,B,C,D). Three things will be true. One will be false. You should choose the false thing. These are the opposite of Factual Information Questions where one thing is true and three are false. For example:

Steven can’t go to the party because of all the homework he has to do. Plus, he doesn’t even have money to get a bus. And Sarah will be there. He really doesn’t want to see her. So, he’ll stay at home again. Tonight he will do his homework. After that, he’ll watch a movie and go on the internet.

Why can’t Steven go to the party?

  1. a. He doesn’t know where the party is.
  2. b. He has a lot of homework.
  3. c. He doesn’t have money for a bus.
  4. d. Sarah will be there and he doesn’t want to see her.

What will he do tonight?

  1. a. He will play video games.
  2. b. He will do his homework.
  3. c. He’ll watch a movie.
  4. d. He’ll go on the internet.

Negative Factual Information questions are pretty easy. The thing that you can’t find is the answer. You should find three things and make sure you can’t find one thing.

Here are five study strategies.

Answers First First, make a list of four things. Then write something that uses three of them. For example, if your list was “bread, butter, eggs, sugar”, you might write “I bought bread, eggs, and sugar.” Of course, your answer can be much longer, but you’ll get used to how to create the questions. This will make it easier for you to answer them.

Change Factual Information Questions Look at some “Factual Information” questions on a practice test. Change the factual information questions into negative factual info questions by changing the grammar of the question. For instance, if the question is “How many cars did he buy” and the answer is “two”. You could change the question to “How many cars didn’t he buy”?

Add to Groups You’ll be very good at these questions if you can see groups quickly. You’ll see groups more quickly if you find groups of things that have stuff in common. Then think of things that you could add to the lists. For example, if you found an article that talked about France, Germany, and Spain; you might write Holland, Italy, and Poland. (They’re all European countries.)

Create Groups After reading something, add sentences to it. Add sentences so that there are groups of three things. So, if the text talks about apples and oranges, you could write about bananas to create a group of three.

Three Truths and a Lie Think of people, places, objects and events. Write three true sentences and one false sentence about them. For example, think about New York City. You could write: It’s in  the USA. The Statue of Liberty is there. It’s the biggest city in the world. The New York Yankees play there. Three are true. Which one is false?

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Studying Strategies, Test Prep | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Website Review:

In short: One of the five best ESL sites on the internet. They have everything. They’ve been putting out great material for 15 years and let’s hope they never stop. Their own menu bar says it all: Articles, Lessons, Techniques, Questions, Games, Jokes, Things for Teachers, Links, and Activities for Students.

The site is organized perfectly. There’s no distracting advertising. If you have a slow connection, this site will still load quickly. What more could you want?

For students: The “Activities for Students” button will take you to this site, There, you’ll find many fun things you can do to improve your English.

For teachers: You can learn from the articles and use the lessons, techniques, etc. Why not contribute as well? See if you can get an article published. You’ll learn a lot while preparing it and give a little back to the community of teachers and students around the world.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running Dictation

Running Dictation

Imagine: It’s a beautiful day out. A day that, by all rights, should be reserved exclusively for picnics and frolicking. You walk into your classroom and it’s clear the students feel the same way. Here’s an activity that the students will remember for years.

First, you need some bit of text—a paragraph from a reading in your textbook, a dialogue on the theme, or something else.

You’re going to go outside, but before you do, explain the rules of the game.

Students will be in groups of three. The playground will be divided into three sections. The first student can only move in the first section. The second student can only move in the second section and the third student can only move in the third section.

The first student should read the text and tell the second student. The second student should tell the third student. The third student should write it down.

The first team to correctly write the whole text is the winner.

Notes: If that’s clear, you can stop reading, but here are some additional notes:

Before you go outside, you might draw something like this on the board

Book/Sun Hee–>


<–Sasha/Paper and Pen



<–Makiko/Paper and Pen


<–Hye Young–>

<–Pavel/Paper and Pen

Etc. Etc. Etc.

If you take a few chairs outside with you, then you could put the books and papers/pens on the chairs and insist that they stay there.

You might stay by the students with the paper and pens in order to say when they’ve finished or tell them if it’s not correct yet.

Or, you could make them just hand it in to you. If the first finishers have any mistakes, then they won’t win. The winners are the first ones to finish without any errors.

This was inspired by part of this lesson plan at the British Council’s fabulous site. Thanks!

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Lesson Plans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to listen to this song: In My Life by The Beatles

How to Listen to This Song: “In My Life” by The Beatles

You’ll use this song to review different verb tenses.

First, listen to the song “In My Life” by The Beatles. You can listen here or here or here.

Now, let’s quickly review some verb tenses. (These explanations and examples are just quick reminders. For much better explanations, visit

Future Simple: will+base form of the verb*, used for things that happen at one specific time in the future

Examples: I will go to the party at 7pm. I’ll meet you on Saturday

Present Simple: base verb + s/es, used for things that are generally true and the specific times aren’t important because they’re always true/false or the same.

Examples: I love pizza! He sleeps on the floor.

Past Simple: base verb + -ed (2nd form), used for things that happen at one specific time in the past (and we know when).

Examples: I walked home yesterday. I called her at 5pm.

Present Continuous: base verb + -ing (present participle), used for temporary (non-permanent) situations

Examples: I am eating, but I’ll finish soon. I am working as a waiter, but I want to change jobs.

Present Perfect: have/has + base verb+ed, used for things that happened and finished in the past, but we don’t know (or don’t care) when they happened.

Examples: I have already watched that movie, so let’s see a different movie. I’ve visited Canada. I’ve baked a cake!

* The base form of the verb is the form you find in the dictionary. For example the base form of “go” is “go”. The base form of “went” is also “go”.

Next, listen to the song and read the lyrics

There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever, not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends, I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life, I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers

There is no one compares with you

And these memories lose their meaning

When I think of love as something new

Though I know I’ll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I’ll often stop and think about them

In my life, I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I’ll often stop and think about them

In my life, I love you more

In my life, I love you more.

After Listening Now, looking at the lyrics, make a list of all the examples of each verb tense you can find. (Answers below)

Three more things…

Can you memorize this song? If you can, then you’ll always remember your verb tenses.

Listen to the song and try to sing it too.

Finally, use each verb tense to write three practice sentences (three Future Simple, three Present Simple, etc.)


Future Simple: I’ll never lose affection, I’ll often stop and think

Present Simple: There are places, I remember, Some remain, Some are dead, There is no one, No one compares with you, These memories lose their meaning, I think of love, I know, I love you

Past Simple: These places had their moments, People and things…went before

Present Progressive: Some are living

Present Perfect: Some have changed, Some have gone, I’ve loved them all

August 10, 2010 Posted by | How to listen to this..., Using Songs to Teach Grammar | , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Talk Time (Nature)

Talk Time (Nature)

This is another one-hour conversation activity. For an introduction to the series, click here. Enjoy.

Name: Talk Time (Nature)

Prep Time: None

Materials: None

Primary Objective: Build fluency on a given topic

Other Benefits: This is a good review activity or a good activity to do after you’ve worked on a theme for a little while.


Pre-Speaking (20 minutes)

Begin by writing “Nature” on the top of the board. (The theme can be anything, but for this lesson, let’s say it’s nature.)

Now, write “tree, walk, and green” on the board. Explain that they are examples of a noun, verb, and adjective related to nature. Then ask the class for another noun, verb, and adjective related to nature. Write them on the board as well.

(Note: These words don’t have to be related to nature in a direct or even obvious way. The point is that the students are prepping themselves to use some words in the discussion they’ll have a little later. If “nature” makes them think of “hospital” because the last time they went for a hike, they had to go to the hospital, that’s fine.)

Next, the students should take out a piece of paper and write a noun, verb, and adjective of their own. Then, they should pass the paper to their left. That student should read what the last student wrote and add another noun, verb, and adjective. Then, they should pass it again. Repeat until each student has written on each sheet.

Finally, students should write three sentences using the nouns, verbs, and adjectives of whatever paper they end up with. Model it on the board. For example, if your paper looked like this:

Nouns Verbs Adjectives

Tree   Walk    Green

Bird    Swim   Beautiful

Rock   Sleep   Boring

You might write: I slept under the beautiful tree. OR: The green bird couldn’t swim. OR: I think rocks are boring, but sometimes I walk near them.

(Note: Again, the sentences don’t need to be great. They’re just meant to get the students using the vocabulary in a creative, if structured, way.)

Have the students share their sentences with a partner.

Pre-Speaking #2 (5 minutes)

Ask the students to suggest sample discussion questions about nature. Write a couple examples of good discussion questions on the board:

Do you often visit a forest?

Do you like nature?

What is you favorite animal?

When students suggest good questions, write them on the board. If a student suggests a bad discussion question (e.g. Did you ever see a tiger?), change it to something better (e.g. What are some animals you have seen? OR Do you like tigers? Why/Why not?). You just want to avoid questions that students won’t be able to answer or will obviously answer quickly.

Speaking (20 minutes)

Now, tell the students to discuss the questions on the board for 20 minutes. Write the time that they need to talk (e.g. 10:20-10:40) on the board. Tell them that they must speak only English for 20 minutes. If they finish discussing the questions on the board before 20 minutes have passed, that’s OK. They can talk about whatever they want, but it should be in English.

While they speak, walk around the class and talk with different groups about the questions. Demonstrate how to ask follow-up questions and encourage them to do the same.

Post-Speaking (15 minutes)

Now, discuss the questions as a class. Ask each question to one or two students and ask follow-up questions as appropriate.


Ask the students to think of topics related to nature. For instance, they might suggest: Camping, Animals, Sports, etc.

Assign one of these topics to each student (several students can have the same topic, but not if they’re sitting next to each other). The students should write five discussion questions on their topic and ask their partner the questions.


Ideas for Homework: Find and email the teacher ten websites that have something to do with nature. (You can collect them all and send out a comprehensive list to the class.)

Modification for Lower Levels: If the level is so low that they’ll have trouble thinking of enough nouns, verbs, and adjectives related to the them; instead write down several yourself and play a game of hangman with them.

Then, have them just write down twenty nouns, verbs, and adjectives. In groups, they should circle the words that are related to nature and add to the lists if possible.

When you write the questions on the board, make sure to write sample answers next to them.

Only write five sample questions and five sample answers at a time. Instead of having them talk for 20 minutes, have them talk for five minutes. Review the questions as a class. Then write another five questions and another five sample answers on the board. Repeat for time.

Modification for Higher Levels: This should work fine for higher levels as is. Just make sure they’re using appropriately difficult vocabulary and grammar. If they’re not, cross the words out/don’t accept the question. Tell them they can do better.

Modification for Small Groups: It should be OK, but students will need to write on the same sheet of paper several times.

Modification for Private Lesson: It should be OK, but the student will have to write many vocab words and questions alone and you’ll have to keep the conversation going with good follow-up questions. Also, you’ll probably have to do the extension for time.

Modification for Different Themes: Change your example vocabulary and discussion questions to match your theme.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Conversation Lesson Plans, Lesson Plans | , , , | Leave a comment

Deck of Cards

Deck of Cards

This is another one-hour conversation activity. For an introduction to the series, click here. Enjoy.

Name: Deck of Cards

Prep Time: None

Materials: A deck of cards

Primary Objective: Review previous themes

Other Benefits: This is a nice combination kinesthetic/visual activity.



Pre-Speaking #1 (10 minutes)

On the board, write four themes that you’ve already discussed in class (For example: Getting to Know You, Travel, The Home, and Clothing).

Write a sample discussion question next to each theme (For example: What’s your favorite subject? Do you like to travel? Do you have a messy room, and Do you have a favorite shirt? Why do you like it?)

Go around the class and ask each question to a couple of students.

Now ask the students to suggest another discussion question for each topic. Write them on the board and ask each question to a couple students.

In the end, your board should look something like this:

Theme 1: Question 1 (from teacher), Question 2 (from student)

Theme 2: Question 1 (from teacher), Question 2 (from student)

Theme 3: Question 1 (from teacher), Question 2 (from student)

Theme 4: Question 1 (from teacher), Question 2 (from student)

Pre-Speaking #2 (10 minutes)

Next, write a suit next to each theme (e.g. a Heart next to Getting to Know You, a Diamond next to Travel, a Club next to The Home, and a Spade next to Clothing)

Now give each student two cards. They should write a discussion questions that match their suits. (e.g. if they have a Diamond and a Club, they’d write questions about Travel and The Home)

For students that finish quickly, give them more cards. Keep passing out extra cards until everyone has written at least two questions and time has passed.

Speaking (30 minutes)

Collect all of the cards from the students.

Have the students stand up and ask their questions to another student.

After they’ve asked and answered most of their questions, yell “find another partner!” They should find a new person and ask that person their questions.

Post-Speaking (10 minutes)

Ask the class for questions from each suit. Then ask random students the questions again as a review.


Give the students two cards again. They should now find someone else with a question on that suit’s theme and write it down. Basically, they’re just copying questions from other students, but in a complicated way.

Repeat the Speaking portion, but with their new questions.

Extension #2

Have a “follow-up” questions contest.

Bring two students to the front of the class. One student should ask one of their questions. The other student should answer.

Now, the first student should ask as many follow-up questions as possible. When they run out of follow-up questions, note how many they asked and have them sit down. Bring another two students to the front and repeat the process. See which student in the class can ask the most follow-up questions.


Ideas for Homework: Have the students write 13 discussion questions on each topic. They should label the questions with suits and numbers. Their best question should be their “ace” question. A “two” question can be silly or stupid.

Modification for Lower Levels: It should be OK, but you may need to put the structure for discussion questions on the board in a more specific manner. So, instead of just putting examples on the board, you could also put up something like “Do you like _____?” “Yes, I like _______.” or “No, I don’t like _________.”

Modification for Higher Levels: None needed. Just make sure they’re asking appropriately open-ended questions as they write them.

Modification for Small Groups: Pass out five or six cards at the beginning. During the Speaking portion, call out a suit and discuss all of that suit’s questions as a group. Then do the next suit. You can still ask the questions again at the end. It’s good repetition.

Modification for Private Lesson: Alternate pulling cards from the deck and asking your student and having them ask you questions. If you pull a face card, you also have to ask three follow-up questions.

Modification for Different Themes: Assign different themes to the different suits.

June 25, 2010 Posted by | Conversation Lesson Plans, Lesson Plans | , , , , | 1 Comment

Website Review:

In short: TED is an organization that wants to spread ideas around the world. And they’re really, really good at it. You can watch videos of some of the most interesting, best thinkers in the world. Scientists, philosophers, comedians, and more—all TED cares about is that they’re good. (Well, they also want them to be quick. The videos range from 3-20 minutes long.)

Why mention it here? Well, it’s maybe the best site on the internet for advanced listening, discussion, and critical thinking skills.

For students: Many of the videos will have subtitles in your language. (This video has 42 languages.) Click on the tab “most languages” to find videos with lots of subtitle options. We suggest that you watch videos four times. First watch with no subtitles at all. Then, watch with English subtitles. Then, if needed, watch with subtitles in your language. Finally, watch again with no subtitles.

Also, to the right of the videos, you can see the transcripts (the speaker’s words) and click on any of the words to skip to that part of the video. Pretty cool, huh?

For teachers: Instead of using magazine articles for your classes and private lessons, why not use TED talks? If possible, you can show them in class. If not, you can assign them for homework.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Website Review:

In short: A great site. An amazing site. This is a really wonderful site.

Let’s start by saying that it’s difficult to describe this site “in short”. You’ll need about three hours to just look at everything. But the fine British Council folks in China have made a site that’s easy to understand and use. Grab a cup of tea and start enjoying all the great resources.

First off, you can read and listen to stories and articles on many different subjects and themes. Easy to use glossaries are there to help students with difficult words.

Then you might check out some idioms or other shorter bits of language on the site. They come with wonderful audio tracks, videos, or cartoons.

Maybe the best things on the site are the video and audio series. “Big City Small Word” is an audio soap opera that would be great for students studying alone or for a class to listen to together. If you’re looking for Business English resources, you’ll find an essential series that takes you from an employee getting fired through interviews and to a new person starting.

And everything is very interactive. You really feel like you’re part of a global English community.

For students: In addition to reading, listening, and following a series, you can also play lots of useful games. This site makes it easy to learn English. Have fun!

For teachers: Click on the “Go To English Online Teachers” tab to find a bunch of resources just for you. You’ll find downloadable workshops and other great tools to help you become a better teacher. There are even lesson plans that accompany some of the material on the main site.

June 14, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment